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Star Death: Crab Nebula

Remains of an exploded star Full Story Below

Red intensity color map showing a roughly elliptical-shaped structure of looping lines emanating from a bright central region
Yellow intensity color map showing a fuzzy elliptical-shaped structure of bright regions surrounding dimmer, more diffuse areas
Green intensity color map showing a roughly elliptical-shaped structure of distinct, bright, frayed-thread-like filaments surrounding darker regions
Blue intensity color map  showing an irregular-shaped region of diffuse light decreasing in brightness from the center, and a scattering of distinct, bright to dim circles of various sizes
Purple intensity color map showing a distinct, irregular-shaped structure with a bright circle at the center surrounded by several bright rings, and a bright plume emanating from the bright circle
Multi-color intensity map in red, yellow, green, blue, and purple showing a roughly elliptical-shaped structure with details of the Radio, Infrared, Visible, Ultraviolet, and X-ray images
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Charged particles move at very high speeds along spiraling paths, guided by magnetic forces

Dust that formed from the star may eventually become part of a new star or planet.

The cloud of hot gas blown out from the star is still expanding outward.

Stars outside the nebula are made of atoms created and expelled by earlier generations of stars.

Particles caught in the magnetic field of the dead star's core (a small, dense, spinning ball of neutrons) shine in X-rays.

A composite image of visible and invisible light shows the remains of a star nearly 1,000 years after it exploded.


Star Death: Crab Nebula

Many of the atoms in your body formed billions of years ago, inside an aging star.

Some stars die slowly, giving off puffs of gas and dust before collapsing to form small white dwarf stars. Much larger stars die suddenly in powerful explosions known as supernovas, blasting gas, dust, and energy out in all directions as they collapse to form tiny neutron stars or black holes. The gas and dust expelled by dying stars eventually combines with the remains of others to form new stars, planets, and moons.

The Crab Nebula is a supernova remnant: the remains of star whose life ended in a supernova explosion. Observing the different types of light given off by supernova remnants like the Crab Nebula allows us to better understand what happens to massive stars at the end of their lives; to understand what has happened to the matter and energy that made up the star; and better understand where the planets, moons, rock, water, soil—and living things—originally come from.

Quick Facts: Crab Nebula

Also known as: Messier 1 (M1)

Type of object: Supernova remnant

Distance from Earth: 6,500 light-years

Size: Approximately 10 light-years across

Location in the sky: Taurus Constellation

Location in the universe: Milky Way Galaxy, outside the Solar System

Did you know: The bright light from the supernova explosion that formed the Crab Nebula was observed by Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers in 1054 A.D. The light has since faded and the Crab Nebula is no longer visible without a telescope.

Explore More About Star Death

Find out more with these additional resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning

Astropix AstroPix
Images of star death, supernovas, and planetary nebulas
Universe unplugged Universe Unplugged
When Stars Go Boom starring Jerrika Hinton and Wil Wheaton
Cassiopeia 3D Model Cassiopeia A
How to hold a dead star in your hand
Astro vis Astroviz
A supernova over the course of twenty years

Credits: Crab Nebula

Radio image of the Crab Nebula from the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA): NRAO/AUI/NSF

Infrared image of the Crab Nebula from the Spitzer Space Telescope: JPL/Caltech

Visible light image of the Crab Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope: NASA, ESA/Hubble

Ultraviolet light image of the Crab Nebula from the XMM-Newton space telescope: ESA

X-ray light image of the Crab Nebula from the Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA, Chandra/SAO

Multi-wavelength image of the Crab Nebula (radio, infrared, visible, ultraviolet, X-ray): NASA, ESA, G. Dubner (IAFE, CONICET-University of Buenos Aires) et al.; A. Loll et al.; T. Temim et al.; F. Seward et al.; VLA/NRAO/AUI/NSF; Chandra/SAO; Spitzer/JPL-Caltech; XMM-Newton/ESA; and Hubble/STScI

Content development by Margaret W. Carruthers, Timothy Rhue II, Dr. Brandon Lawton

Design by Elizabeth Wheatley, John Godfrey

Web Development by Philippe Batigne

Subject-matter expertise provided by Dr. Tea Temim, Dr. Bill Blair, Dr. Brandon Lawton